San Francisco’s homelessness crisis is daunting. There is no quick fix for a problem with such complex causes. So to tackle this crisis, we must take a holistic approach that addresses its many root causes, including mental health, substance abuse and, of course, the lack of supportive and affordable housing options available.
As Budget Chair for the past four years, I led the effort to invest record amounts to combat homelessness, allocating $241 million to homeless services in 2016 — an increase of $84 million since 2011.
These funds are already being put to good work. In the past 10 years, we have ended homelessness for more than 25,000 individuals.
We’ve recently opened two brand new navigation centers — one in the Mission District; the other near Civic Center — that will serve about 1,500 homeless people a year. More than 80 percent of the homeless people who have already entered the navigation center at 1950 Mission St. exited to live in stable and supportive housing or reunited with friends and family. By February, there will be a new navigation center in the Dogpatch.
Within the next two years, we will launch three more of these centers across San Francisco, which will provide thousands of homeless individuals with a safe place to sleep while they wait to be placed in more permanent housing, rehabilitation programs, employment opportunities and other services that combat homelessness.
We will also open 300 new supportive housing units this year, and are slated to open 300 new units a year if voters approve Propositions J and K. That’s tens of thousands of new housing exits.
On top of building new units, we must make better use of existing beds. San Francisco shelters are typically 5 percent to 10 percent vacant on any given night. Often, in vulnerable populations, people have a hard time meeting their appointments, or traveling to different parts of The City. With new technology and a centralized system being implemented by the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, we’re on track to have a shelter system that will be a national model.
I also wrote and passed legislation that doubled our outreach team that serves San Francisco’s homeless residents and added 100 additional flexible housing opportunities for the most chronically homeless.
As we increase supportive services, expand available housing options and work to ensure that we are making good use every bed, we must also put in place smart policies that prioritize safety for our homeless residents and give them the helping hand they need get back on their feet.
This means passing measures like Proposition Q, which addresses the dangerous and inhumane epidemic of tent encampments on our city’s streets by moving homeless San Franciscans out of tents and into shelters, supportive services, treatment and housing.
Prop. Q will require The City to provide 24 hours’ notice before removal of a tent or other encampment structure. Tent residents must be informed of a specific available shelter or housing opportunity. The new policy will also require The City to store an individual’s personal property for up to 90 days.
These encampments are neither safe for the people that live in them nor for those that live and do business nearby. They are hotbeds for substance abuse and sexual violence, and I firmly believe that it is inhumane to allow our fellow human beings to suffer in these conditions.
Some of my colleagues are willing to accept these tents as a place for people to live. They’ve thrown their hands up and said that this is the best we can do.
I know that we can do better.
With more and more short-term and long-term housing becoming available, we don’t need to settle for these unsanitary and unsafe encampments. We can work with our homeless residents to move them into the housing and services that they need to rebuild their lives.
Please joining me in voting “Yes” on Prop. Q on Nov. 8.
Mark Farrell is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.